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Brussels postpones decision on Roma legal action

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-29

The European Commission has postponed an announcement on possible legal action against France over its expulsion of Roma migrants, saying "no decision has been taken".

France appeared Wednesday to have avoided immediate legal action by the European Commission for targeting Roma (Gypsy) camps and repatriating their residents to Romania and Bulgaria.

"No decision has been taken," a Commission spokesman said in a press conference. 
The announcement was pre-empted earlier in the day after several EU sources told the Reuters news agency that France would not face immediate legal action, but would instead be asked to demand more proof that its actions were in line with EU law.
However, diplomats emphasised that the Commission would take action in the coming weeks if it remained unconvinced by France's justifications.
France triggered a flood of international criticism when President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a clampdown against illegal traveller camps and deported more than 1,700 Roma, mainly to Romania and Bulgaria.
Ten days ago European Commission justice chief Viviane Reding said she was “appalled” by France's actions and demanded that legal action be taken against the French government.
FRANCE 24 European Affairs Editor Christophe Robeet believes the EU's executive body may be trying to buy time.
"The European Commission cannot afford to lose this battle," he says. "It would be terrible for its reputation."
Legal action a risky business for the EU
Legal action against France was always going to carry risks for the European Commission.
If Brussels takes France to court and loses, the precedent will hamstring any future legal action against France, or any other EU country that takes punitive steps against minority groups on the grounds that they are breaking the law by building illegal encampments or exceeding the time they are allowed to stay in the country.
In order to proceed, Reding would have needed an absolutely watertight case to persuade her colleagues to level a formal charge of discrimination, a violation of the European charter of fundamental rights, against France.
Diplomats told Reuters Wednesday that while the EU would not be pursuing legal action, it would still demand proof from France that the expulsions are legal. France insists they are.
How Sarkozy's 'summer crackdown' came to this
‘Roma camps are a priority’
Last week France argued that its actions were not discriminatory - despite a leaked government memo that mentioned Roma as the prime targets of plans to dismantle illegal camps.
The leaked memo, signed by Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux's chief of staff Michel Bart, outlined “specific objectives” for police forces.
It read: “Three hundred camps or illegal settlements must be cleared within three months, Roma camps are a priority.”
France argues that most of the illegal camps that were targeted for dismantlement by police were inhabited by travellers holding French nationality, and not Romanian or Bulgarian Roma.
It was the publication of the leaked memo that prompted Reding to threaten France with legal action.


Date created : 2010-09-29


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